Niche Navigators

Trying to rival the internet giant Google is a formidable task
for any company trying to start up a new search engine. Without
hope of being as comprehensive as Google, smaller search engine
companies are trying a variety of different tacks to carve out
their own niche in the market. As Verne Kopytoff reports in the
San Francisco Chronicle, specialized
search engines are gaining in popularity and prominence. The
advantages of a niche search engine include more targeted
information and interfaces that are easier to navigate. Kopytoff
lists his own alternative search engines, and we’ve added a few
more to get your specialized search started.

Medical
According to Kopytoff, large search engines often have trouble
with health-related searches ‘because of the complex nature of the
topic and the proliferation of information of dubious quality and
spam websites.’ A variety of health-centric search engines have
emerged to give guidance. One is
Healthline,
a site that allows you to search the web, news, or dictionary for
health tips. What makes this site unique is a feature called
HealthMap, a flow chart of clickable topics related to your search
word. For example, the keywords ‘kidney stones’ lead to a box on
stone analysis, which leads to four different boxes of stone types.
Another health site called Medstory refines searches by compiling lists of
related topics with bar graphs representing the amount of
correlating information. The site has partnered with the
Wall Street
Journal
and breastcancer.org to help improve the
results.

Science/Tech
With the massive amount of tech info on the web, sometimes bigger
search engines can’t sort their way through the jumble. Two physics
graduate students created Octopart, a tech-savvy shortcut to comparison
shopping for electronic parts. The simple but speedy site shows
product results from catalogs of distributors such as Allied
Electronics and Mouser. Another option for the tech set is
Scirus, a
search engine about science and only science. The niche engine has
even copped a few awards for its efforts, which include accessing
information from more than 300 million science-specific websites
and providing ‘deep’ searches that dig into the hidden portions of
websites.

Guided
For those who think big search engines are too impersonal, there
are a few engines that can pair you with a guide to ease your
searching woes. ChaCha is making a name for itself as one of
the only search engines that pairs you with a live person somewhere
in cyberspace who will do your dirty work. Much like a chat room,
ChaCha connects users with a guide via instant messaging. The guide
asks about your query and suggests possible results. The site aims
to connect you with someone knowledgeable in your area and
encourages users to rate the helpfulness of guides so future
queries can be answered more effectively. Another similar site
(whose appeal may be limited to lonely teenage boys) is
Ms. Dewey, a
search engine guided by video footage of a sassy brunette. The
interface is set up as a face-to-face interaction between you and
Ms. Dewey. The site is not quick, though. In fact you’ll spend most
of your time watching her leer at you in between taking shots of
liquor and checking her cell phone.

Miscellaneous
Google’s lack of structure in search results can be overwhelming.
The key for Kosmix, on the other hand, is categorization.
Subject-based searches narrow your results immediately, but the
drawback is that the site is still evolving — offering only six
main-categories so far. Users can chose from health, video games,
US politics, travel, autos, and finance, and results can be broken
down further (for example, politics splits into liberal and
conservative categories). On the shopping front, a number of
image-based sites are popping up. One example is
Like, a site
that allows users to find clothing and accessory items that look
similar. Online shoppers can search for prices and stores to
purchase tons of shoes, shirts, and other consumer goods. But the
real bonus is the ability to track down and buy fashions like the
ones their celebrity idols don in magazines. Lastly,
Oodle
specializes in classified listings. With access to 20 million ads
for rentals, merchandise, personals, and other fare throughout the
United States and United Kingdom, users can surely find a new
apartment, a puppy, or at least a date.

Go there >>
Small Search Engines Try to Get a Grip

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